Barcelona dwellers that regularly come in contact with guidebook-wielding tourists will be aware of a controversial video on YouTube that has been stirring an already explosive debate. “Bye Bye Barcelona” by Journalist Eduardo Chibás is a documentary about the increasing loss of key parts of the city to the tidal wave of tourism that washes up on shore with increasing numbers every year.
The documentary (with over 159,000 hits) has come at a key moment when Barcelona has found itself at a cultural cross-roads; its loss of a strong cultural identity is seemly at odds with the super-tourist destination image it portrays overseas, an identity that is quite literally taking the city hostage.
Certainly during the high-peek months the residents of Barcelona have had to relinquish the church La Sagrada Familia and the famous market; La Boquiera to the hordes. Park Güell now charges entry to non-residents, but for local residents it has become a no-go zone.
Residents protest that the park was donated to the people of Barcelona by the Güell family to be used as an open green space, not for the Barcelona town hall to profit from; charging for entry is not a way to stem or manage the tidal wave of irresponsible mass tourism.
“Masificación,” meaning “Overcrowding,” has recently become a buzz word on the lips of most residents, as cruise ships regally offload up to 30 thousand tourists into the city during the summer months on a daily basis, counting on increasing numbers from countries such as Russia and China whose populations are beginning to gain the means to travel more frequently and further afield.
Santiago Tejedor, co-director of Travel journalism at Barcelona University and who featured in the Bye Bye Barcelona documentary said of the phenomenon, “All this is due to low-cost air travel and a globalized culture that makes people seek to discover new places in their spare time. These ideas combine and have turned tourism, not into the act of travelling but of consuming those destinations”.
It is no secret that Barcelona appears high on the agenda of these new world tourists. Barcelona is now the 4th most visited city in Europe after London, Paris and Rome–all of which are significantly bigger in size and more capable of dealing with the sheer volume of visitors.
Santiago Tejedor also highlighted that “Barcelona is also the 4th destination in Europe that disappoints visitors, because there is nothing authentic to offer people.”
The idea of mass tourism fuels the image of stereotypes shuffling up La Rambla wearing fake FC Barcelona shirts and Mexican sombreros with a sandal-and-white-sock combo, viewing the city from behind a camera viewfinder.
Barcelona became the focal point of the Responsible Tourism Conference in Oct. 2013, to find way to balance the positive and negative impacts of tourism and create a balance where they can both co-exist in the same space.
Managing friction between visitors and local residents seems high on the agenda for the Barcelona town hall, set apart from obvious financial gains that the city benefits from.
It is well-known that Barcelona is heavily dependent on tourism. It counts for 11 percent of Catalonia´s GDP and provides some 400,000 jobs. Since the Olympic games of ´92 the city has undergone a series of drastic changes, sending out a clear message that it is a desirable tourist package.
With the increasing popularity of the city there also the danger that Barcelona is close to going the same way as Venice, becoming an open air museum, devoid of indigenous population. This can be seen as reflected in the fact that London has its own chain of Barcelona tapas restaurants decked out in Gaudiesque designs, showing that Barcelona´s cultural identity template is fully transferable overseas.
Opinion By Anthony Bain
Photos: Jose Téllez, Ignacio Martínez Egea, Gregg, KeithProvenArtist
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